Article by: Michelle Aikman, Air Force Spouse and Tricia Ross, Navy Spouse of the Year, 2012

Editors Note: For even more information, please check out the print issue of Military Spouse Magazine (on newstands November 1st) for Tricia’s article, titled “Don’t Eat That!”

Some argue that a no peanut policy is an unnecessary inconvenience.  That those with allergies should be separated instead of forcing everyone else to change. That it is the parents’ responsibility to teach the kid not to eat food with peanuts. That it is not their problem. Some argue that the accommodating just starts here and that we are setting ourselves up for a ban on milk and sunscreen and who knows what else because where do we draw the line? This is a heated debate in all communities, not just between military spouses.

So where you do stand on the issue? Do you support such a policy? If you aren’t sure or don’t support such a policy, then consider these perspectives…

Michelle, a parent of children without peanut allergies

My children do not have peanut allergies. I am extremely grateful and willing to challenge anyone who does not respect and accommodate for children with this allergy. My children could just as easily have this allergy as any other kid.  I would hope my friends, family, neighbors, and school community would do everything possible to ensure that the risk of exposure is minimized. My heart breaks when people are unwilling to make the small accommodations necessary that could mean life or death to a child.

In all honesty, I didn’t always feel this way.  The first time I received a note from preschool notifying me that peanuts were not allowed I immediately felt myself recoil a bit and think, “Why? That is just plain ridiculous.” I could have easily tossed out the note, continued packing peanut butter snacks, and comfortably lived my life without another thought to the issue. After all, it didn’t affect me. Instead, I choose to ask, “Why?” (leaving out the ridiculous part) and sought out additional information from respectable sources so I could form my own opinion based on facts.

We all manage health risks every day but peanut allergy reactions are often a fatal risk that is controllable through avoidance.  Avoiding a certain type of food is difficult when other people are unaware or unwilling to make accommodations. Even the most cautious child, with the best response care, can fall victim if precautions are not in place.

It didn’t take long before I became a strong supporter and helped communicate the real risks of such a food in their environment. It is an easy adjustment to make when considering what might happen if I don’t adjust. A child could die – because of peanut butter – or even a snack that was manufactured in a facility that produces peanut products. Not worth it.

Yes, my kids like peanut butter and it is very easy to whip up a PB&J but adjusting doesn’t take but a little creative brainstorming, scrolling through Pinterest, and a conversation with my kids about WHY we are making the change and get their input. Surprisingly, they are usually on board and willing to adjust their stance on food when they understand.  They are compassionate and accepting.  We should be too.


Tricia, a parent of child with a peanut allergy

Finding out our daughter had a life threatening peanut allergy was life changing for our entire family.  With four children in the house peanut butter was a staple, but that all changed when I watched my daughters face swell, throat begin to close and sheer terror in her eyes.   There before me stood a little girl, who almost died because she had gotten gum in her hair, yes gum!  Like most mom’s I reached for the peanut butter not knowing what was about to happen.  It only took an instant and mere contact and the reaction began. We were lucky that first day, we had no idea that our daughter was allergic to peanuts, but thanks to the quick reaction of my husband, an ER/Trauma nurse, he recognized the signs of an allergic reaction and was able to treat her quickly.

It wasn’t long before we became a peanut free household and I the inspector of labels! No more Five Guys or Logan’s Steakhouse, no more Reese’s cups. Holidays, parties and field trips make me nauseous and everywhere we go we carry Epi-Pens and Benadryl.

The start of elementary school was rough; new school, new state, new rules.  “It’s just a peanut allergy” and the instructions to leave her Epi Pen and forms with the part time nurse, who would place the medication in a locked cabinet, was my introduction to the school’s food allergy policy.  I wanted to scream and cry, no one seemed to understand the severity of what could happen if our daughter had an allergic reaction.  They took some precaution sending home a list of peanut free snacks, a list which most people probably didn’t even bother to read.

Then it happened, while celebrating a classmate’s birthday, our sweet little girl started to have a reaction, eyes swelling and neck itching. I rushed to school and was met at the front of the school by my daughter’s teacher who was holding her in her arms, unsure if to inject her with the Epi-Pen or how to proceed. Our daughter didn’t need her Epi-Pen that day, it was a contact reaction but, I realized in those moments that part of the issue in the “No Peanut” debate is the lack of information about the severity and the possibility of death of those who are allergic.

If you oppose a peanut free school policy then get informed, it’s your right but you need to know the facts about the severity of peanut and other food allergies.  As the parent of a child with a peanut allergy, I want other parents to understand that I am not trying to complicate the lives of others by advocating for peanut free schools, I am simply trying to keep my child safe. Educating students at a young age about peanut and other food allergies and the dangers to their classmates, builds a strong bond within the classroom, teaches students to understand the differences amongst each other and empathy.


5 Facts You Should Know About Peanut Allergies

  1. A Center for Disease Control, study showed that 16%-18% of children with food allergies have had allergic reactions to accidental ingestion of food allergens while in school. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimated that 150 deaths occur each year in the U.S. related to food allergy induced anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening.

  2. Only 20 % of children who develop a childhood peanut allergy will outgrow the allergy. Reactions tend to worsen over time: a minor reaction one time may be followed by a hospital visit or death the next. A child that has had a visible reaction in the past is more likely to have a worse reaction in the future.

  3. It’s not just peanuts and peanut butter that can cause allergic reactions. Peanut products are found in many various foods including: baking mixes, candy, cereals, chili, chocolate, cookies, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, Indonesian food, marzipan, nougat, pastries, pesto, praline and soup mixes. Beyond food, peanuts or peanut by products are also found in paper, pet bedding, potting soil, mulch, cosmetics, pet food, pet bedding & treats.

  4. According to the USDA, when a doctor determines that food allergies could result in severe, life-threatening reactions, the child’s condition would meet the definition of “disability.” That means children who meet the criteria of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are protected under Federal Civil Rights Laws and eligible for special accommodations as necessary.

  5. What an allergic reaction to peanuts might look like:

Check out the additional resources below so you can make informed decisions.

Share your reasons for supporting “NO PEANUT” policies in the comments section.

References

Food Allergies in Schools – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food Allergies: What You Need To Know – U.S. Food and Drug Administration Laws and Regulations-Food Allergy Research and Education

Resources

Positive Health Wellness – All You Need to Know About Peanut Allergies and What to Look Out For

Food Allergy Resource and Education

Safe at School and Ready to Learn: a Comprehensive Policy Guide for Protecting Students with Life-Threatening Food Allergies  [pdf 4.5M] – National School Boards Association

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Positive Health Wellness – All You Need to Know About Peanut Allergies and What to Look Out For

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